The Urban Metainterface

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Examples of everyday urban experiences with interfaces are numerous: TripAdvisor provides access restaurants, and other sights that are otherwise not clearly visible in the urban landscape; with Airbnb, any apartment in the city holds the invisible potential of a bed and breakfast, etc. In other words “every street corner and every local pub leads a double life.” (de Waal). The interface is however not just an interface to the city, but is a meta-construction that within itself holds a particular urban gaze (Andersen and Pold). This presentation focuses on the black box of the urban metainterface, and how the city is textualized beyond the street sign and the billboard; and how this produces a particular territoriality and perception of space. The urban metainterface depends on an ability to capture the user’s behaviors: the more the interface opens up the city – to diverse behaviors and signification – the more it needs to monitor the users and their milieu, and process these data. The more we read, the more we are being read. But what are the aesthetic mechanisms of seeing and walking in the city, whilst being seen and being guided? 

In the app Las calles habladas, or Spoken Streets, by Clara Boj and Diego Diaz, the user is offered a random map and walking path around their location. The app is an audio guide, but unlike most audio guides, however, the narrative appears fragmented. The audio track is an automated text-to-speech function where each user movement generates a search and is answered by the reading of debris from the World Wide Web’s enormous body of text: phrases from websites, Twitter feeds, or Facebook events appear together with symbols, numbers, and URLs. Sometimes there is a direct and visible linkage to the user’s location, as when the user is near a shop that also is listed on a website. At other times the relation is more abstract. The relation between sense and nonsense, between potential narrative and raving incoherent jabber, seems to be central to the literary experience of using the app and points to both how the city can be defined as a “semiotization” of space, and the ways in which this process is deeply intertwined with “how the web speaks the streets”. 

To unfold the grammar of the urban metainterface, the presentation accounts for how the city itself (according to Roland Barthes) functions as a process of semiosis that is structured around a particular, often-implicit, and unconscious way of seeing, and with Boj and Diaz as a starting point, but also with references to the literary works of Graham Harwood, the presentation elaborates the kinds of gazes the metainterface produces.

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Record posted by: 
Jana Jankovska